| Apr 10, 2012
They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32 NRSV)
On this Tuesday after Easter, I want to consider for a moment what it means for us that Jesus Christ calls us to follow him, and to invite reflection on those moments throughout our lives when the call of Jesus Christ has come to us personally.
Even Christians from traditions that do not emphasize a born-again experience need to remember that all Christians are born-again as disciples of Jesus. We aren’t reborn just once, however. We are reborn and again and again throughout our lives. Daily we rise to new life in Jesus Christ. Indeed, we keep on rising daily to new life, day after day and year after year. And isn’t this a better arrangement than sleepwalking through our lives?
St. Luke tells us that two disciples of Jesus were walking to the village of Emmaus. Ironically, they were living already in the era of resurrection but didn’t know it. They were walking as though their hopes were dead, nailed to a cross, a victim of a conspiracy between the Roman state and powerful religious leaders. They were walking as though their hopes were walled-up in a tomb. The rumors of resurrection could not dispel their gloom. The rumors they had heard about Jesus having risen only compounded their grief with confusion and dismay.
And, then they met Jesus on the road. They didn’t know that it was Jesus, even though they were disciples. Why didn’t they recognize the Jesus who was walking beside them? The answer is simple. They knew that Jesus was dead.
As they walked along with Jesus, they could not recognize the Jesus their own minds hid from them. Their vision problem wasn’t a failure of the optical nerve, but of the imagination. So, Jesus himself provided the fresh intellectual framework, the new understanding that they needed in order to recognize him. He spoke directly to their minds, inviting them to rethink how they construed the Scriptures as well as their own expectations and offering access to a new faith and hope—faith not in the advent of a triumphant messianic general but in a savior who revealed God’s love for the whole world by releasing his hold on his own survival.
We are told that in the moment when Jesus broke bread with them their eyes were opened and they recognized him. Why were they able to recognize Jesus at that moment? Because he had been opening their minds all afternoon, enlarging their imaginations enough, first to glimpse God’s purposes and then to envision their own participation in them.
They recognized Jesus at that moment because he had illumined their minds to know what to look for. They said to each other. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” They got up right then and returned to Jerusalem and told the other disciples how Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
The resurrection redefines the possible. This redefinition is why the disciples’ hearts burn within them: because through the living Jesus’ presence they have experienced God’s resurrection in their own lives. Suddenly they understand who Jesus Christ is and what his calling means. Suddenly they realize that a new era has dawned. Suddenly their minds are open to all that this new era will demand of them as they follow Christ in faith and learn to live in scorn of the consequences.
Some years ago, I was climbing into the pulpit of a church, First Presbyterian Church of Tulsa, Oklahoma, when I stopped for a moment before preaching to read a message carved into the pulpit desk. The carving faced the preacher. It was clearly meant to serve as a message from the congregation, to remind the preacher of his or her duty. It read simply: “We would see Jesus.”
“We would see Jesus.” That is the implicit request of everyone who walks through the doors of a church on any given Sunday morning, or a seminary chapel on a Friday morning. We want to see Jesus.
If this is what we want, and if Luke’s Gospel is true, what prevents us from recognizing Jesus are our own expectations. Perhaps our vision is obscured by our expectation of what Jesus should look like, how Jesus should behave. Perhaps by our expectation that heaven is no match for the proud powers of this earth. Perhaps by our expectation that death is inevitably stronger than life. Perhaps by our expectation that resurrection is only a childish hope to help us get to sleep at night.
“We would see Jesus.”
Well, perhaps unrecognized, perhaps unacknowledged, perhaps unseen, perhaps unloved, Jesus walks among us today, and every day. And whenever he walks among us, wherever he meets us, Jesus calls us to follow him into his risen life.
Are not our hearts burning within us?